Beautiful Meadows Emerge from the Rubbish
By Yadira Ferrer
Lush vegetation grows atop what was once garbage in the Don Juanito landfill in Colombia. Some 300 tons of waste are processed there each day in a sustainable way.
BOGOTA, (Tierramérica).- The Don Juanito sanitary landfill was transformed in 10 years into a complete ecological park of waste recycling, a model in Colombia, where only 40 percent of household waste undergoes adequate treatment.
Located in Villavicencio, capital of the central department of Meta, this dump daily takes in around 300 tons of waste that is processed and broken down, incorporated into the soil. With the passing of the years, the plot has turned into a lovely meadow.
The landfill belongs to the company Bioagrícola del Llano, "which provides sanitation services of sweeping and clean-up of public routes and spaces, collection and transport and final deposit" in Villavicencio and several surrounding municipalities, commercial director Patricia Díaz told Tierramérica.
Before depositing the solid waste, technical studies and engineering projects are carried out to prevent contamination of the surrounding areas. Each plot where waste is disposed is previously made impermeable to prevent the liquids produced during decomposition from reaching the soil, subsoils and sources of water.
The garbage is compacted to optimize the use of space and, once each zone is complete, it is closed off, and planted with vegetation to convert it into grassy areas and gardens.
"This sanitary landfill is a project that the community supports because of its results," and its aim is to project the image that, with technical and environmental management, "it can be converted into an ecosystem beneficial for the population," said Díaz.
There are two daily guided visits with environmentalists through the Ecological Recycling Park that has emerged from the landfill.
The tour begins in the area where there grow different species of Japanese bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) and 'guadua' (Angustifolia kunth), of the spiny bamboos of the Americas, which the guides note are very useful for protecting water resources.
The park also has an artificial lagoon just a few meters from an area that took in waste from the city in previous years.
In and around the lagoon, native and exotic fauna coexist, attracted by the abundant vegetation, product of the process of environmental compensation carried out here.
"Its gardens and paths invite one to relax, and demonstrate that beautiful things can come from garbage too," Ana Jiménez, university student and one of the more than 20,000 people who have visited the park in the past three years, said in a Tierramérica interview.
In the opinion of environment minister Sandra Suárez, this type of initiative "serves as a model for the rest of the country, and as an example that should be replicated" in other regions.
She chose Don Juanito as the launch site in July for the government program "Colombia free of open-air dumps", through which the country will work to deal with the final disposal of solid waste. According to some analysts, the current system is on the verge of collapse.
The program will work with municipalities in the process of shutting down open-air dumps, and converting them into sanitary landfills.
According to the environmental authority, the country produces 27,300 tons of garbage a day, of which 65 percent is organic waste, and 35 percent inorganic. Just 40 percent receives adequate treatment, and only 10 percent is recovered through recycling.
Government prosecutor Edgardo Maya said in a June 2004 report that the crisis of inadequate treatment of Colombia's waste was "an attack on public health."
In the report, he pointed to the mayors and environmental authorities as responsible for the crisis, for failing to enforce compliance with existing laws.
The document included the results of a study coordinated by the delegate for environmental and agricultural affairs in 194 municipalities, including 28 departmental capitals, encompassing a population of 29 million people.
According to the study, 41.4 percent of the municipalities operated without environmental licenses or waste management plans, violating laws which state that any activity that deteriorates natural resources or introduces major alterations to the landscape or the environment requires prior authorization.
* Yadira Ferrer is a Tierramérica contributor.